‘The Summit’… ‘Happy Town’… But, ultimately, named after lake for bears
Originally known as “The Summit,” the land through what is now Bear Lake Borough had no noticeable roads as late as 1860 but may have had settlers as early as 1820.
Founded on September 6, 1887, and located in the northwest corner of Freehold Township, the lake nearby ultimately gave the borough its name.
The borough, with a current population of less than 200, was called “The Summit” until 1872 when the name was changed to reflect the 10-acre lake nearby.
And, unsurprisingly, the name comes from the lake’s role as a feeding and watering hole for bears before the timber industry started to ravage the area.
By the time Schenck wrote History of Warren County in the 1880s, the village was “thriving” as the “product of railroad enterprise.”
Schenck wrote that the lake that offers the name is “deep and very clear, and without a visible outlet.
“As late as 1860, there was no road through Bear Lake worthy of the name. Previous to that date, a large part of the land now covered by the village was owned by Daniel Walker to the southwest, Asa Chapman to the north and east, and Ira Hamilton to the north and west. These three men, it is said, were here as early as sixty years ago.”
Schenck reports the first store in Bear Lake as a “small shanty, 16 by 20, by Abner Chapman… He dealt in groceries, liquors, etc. about 1860 while the railroad was in process of construction.
The shop must not have been particularly lucrative, though, as it exchanged hands several times between the 1860s and 1880s.
As with much of the rest of the county, sawmills were the first notable developments and Bear Lake’s first mill was operated by Bushrod Woodin “on the Little Brokenstraw, about two miles southeast of the site of the village.”
The mill was built about 1855 and Schenck notes it “was a large mill for those days.”
“Sylvester Williams built the first mill exactly on the site of the village about 1866 or 1867,” Schenck added. “It was a steam grist and saw-mill. It burned about 1871…”
Ernest Miller’s Place Names in Warren County also refers to a “Happy Town” that was “a former small settlement located half in the borough of Bear Lake and half in Freehold Township; it is three-quarters of a mile east of the center of the village of Bear Lake.
“In earlier years, there were nine houses, a blacksmith shop, and an out-of-doors dance platform where Saturday-night dances were held. It is thought the location was named when a reveler remarked, ‘Oh, it’s a happy town on Saturday nights!’ A dirt road, known and marked as Happy Town Road, turns from the village location south where it meets Route 957.”